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Ethereum is often referred to as the second most popular cryptocurrency, after Bitcoin. But unlike Bitcoin—and most other virtual currencies—Ethereum is intended to be much more than simply a medium of exchange or a store of value. Instead, Ethereum calls itself a decentralized computing network built on blockchain technology. Let’s unpack what that means.
How Does Ethereum Work?
Like all cryptocurrencies, Ethereum works on the basis of a blockchain network. A blockchain is a decentralized, distributed public ledger where all transactions are verified and recorded.
It’s distributed in the sense that everyone participating in the Ethereum network holds an identical copy of this ledger, letting them see all past transactions. It’s decentralized in that the network isn’t operated or managed by any centralized entity and is instead managed by all of these distributed ledgerholders.
Blockchain transactions use cryptography to keep the network secure and verify transactions. People use computers to “mine,” or solve complex mathematical equations that confirm each transaction on the network and add new blocks to the blockchain that is at the heart of the system. Participants are rewarded with cryptocurrency tokens. For the Ethereum system, these tokens are called Ether (ETH).
Ether can be used to buy and sell goods and services, like Bitcoin. It’s also seen rapid gains in price over recent years, making it a de-facto speculative investment. But what’s unique about Ethereum is that users can build applications that “run” on the blockchain like software “runs” on a computer. These applications can store and transfer personal data or handle complex financial transactions.
“Ethereum is different from Bitcoin in that the network can perform computations as part of the mining process,” says Ken Fromm, director of education and development at the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance. “This basic computational capability turns a store of value and medium of exchange into a decentralized global computing engine and openly verifiable data store.”
Ether and Ethereum: What’s the Difference?
You can use Ether as a digital currency in financial transactions, as an investment or as a store of value. Ethereum is the blockchain network on which Ether is held and exchanged. As mentioned above, however, this network offers a variety of other functions outside of ETH.
“These can be simple movements of funds, but they may also be complex transactions that do anything from exchanging assets to taking out loans to acquiring a piece of digital art,” says Boaz Avital, head of product at Anchorage. The transactions are processed and stored on the Ethereum network.
The Ethereum network can also be used to store data and run decentralized applications. Rather than hosting software on a server owned and operated by Google or Amazon, where the one company controls the data, people can host applications on the Ethereum blockchain. This gives users control over their data and they have open use of the app as there’s no central authority managing everything.
Perhaps one of the most intriguing use cases involving Ether and Ethereum are self-executing contracts, or so-called smart contracts. Like any other contract, two parties make an agreement about the delivery of goods or services in the future. Unlike conventional contracts, lawyers aren’t necessary: The parties code the contract on the Ethereum blockchain, and once the conditions of the contract are met, it self-executes and delivers Ether to the appropriate party.
Ethereum vs Bitcoin
Bitcoin’s primary use is as a virtual currency and store of value. Ether also works as a virtual currency and store of value,…
Read More:What Is Ethereum And How Does It Work?